Where do you get your ideas?
Everywhere. I might get an idea from a story I hear in the news or a line I read in a book or a conversation I have with a friend. "Wouldn’t it be interesting if that turned into this?" There is no shortage of ideas. The hard part is taking an idea and expanding it into a coherent story peopled with likable characters.
Why do you write science fiction and fantasy?
I think the only answer to that is, "That’s the way my mind works." While I read in a lot of genres, I tend to come up with story ideas that fit this particular one. Also, I like the sweep and grandeur that are possible with sf/f—heroic battles, desperate romances, fabulous clothing.
Are you ever going to write any more angel books?
I have no plans to at the moment! But I suppose you never know. However, I do think I’ll write a few shorter pieces, such as novellas, set in that world.
Music is such a key part of your Samaria books. Are you a musician?
Sort of. I took years of piano lessons, and I sang in choirs all through school and for some time after I graduated. But I’m not exactly a great musician. I truly enjoy singing, particularly when my extended family is together and all the cousins are singing Christmas carols.
Which of your books is your favorite?
I like Picasso’s answer to this question: "The next one." Nothing is quite as exciting (in terms of writing) as coming up with the twists and turns and great moments of your next book. I spend a lot of time thinking about a book before I write it, so I love all the intense storytelling that goes on in my head.
That said, of my published books, my favorites are The Shape-Changer’s Wife, Angel-Seeker, Dark Moon Defender, Still Life with Shape-Shifter, and the YA trilogy.
In what order should your books be read?
The book of mine that is the clear favorite among readers is Archangel, so it’s not a bad idea to start with the Samaria series. I always think they should be read in the order in which they were published: Archangel, Jovah’s Angel, The Alleluia Files, Angelica, and Angel-Seeker. I know some people have read them chronologically, which would change the order to: Angelica, Archangel, Angel-Seeker, Jovah’s Angel, The Alleluia Files. If you’re reading chronologically, you could insert the novella “Flight” right before Archangel, the novella “Fallen Angel” right after Angel-Seeker, and the novella “Nocturne” between Angel-Seeker and Jovah’s Angel.
The Twelve Houses books should definitely be read in order of publication: Mystic and Rider, The Thirteenth House, Dark Moon Defender, and Reader and Raelynx, and Fortune and Fate. The novella set in this world, "When Winter Comes," falls between Mystic and Rider and Thirteenth House.
The young adult books Safe-Keeper’s Secret, Truth-Teller’s Tale, and Dream-Maker’s Magic form a trilogy. They are wholly different stories and do not need to be read in sequence, but a couple of characters make appearances between books, which might make it more enjoyable to read them in the order that they were published.
If you don’t want to commit to a series, you can read the standalone books in any order at all! Among those, the book that readers tend to like best is Summers at Castle Auburn. It’s also a pretty easy read for people who aren’t sure they like fantasy.
How did you get your first book published?
I’d written quite a few manuscripts before I sold one. For a while, I sent a few out on spec, but never made any sales. (One publisher had an unsolicited manuscript of mine for two years! And then rejected it.) In this business, these days, I’m not sure how possible it is to sell a novel without an agent’s help. I found an agent by looking for names of reputable agents, sending out a stack of query letters, and being persistent. I’ve been represented by the Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agency in New York since 1990.
When I was looking, I cross-checked names in Writer’s Digest and Literary Marketplace. These days, I think a lot of information about agents can be found on the Web. Locus also mentions the names of agents who have recently sold sf/f books, so that might lead you to some people who are legitimate and successful.
How long does it take you to write a book?
I tend to write the rough draft as fast as I possibly can, over the course of four or five months. Then I spend two or three months revising—mostly cutting scenes and trimming sentences. Then I have various people read the draft (including members of my writers’ group, the Alternate Historians), and I do a final revision based on their comments. So from start to finish, it might take me seven or eight months before I have it to the stage where I want to send it off to the publisher.
I tend to think of novel writing as being like sculpting a statue from stone. I start with one big solid block that I think I can transform into the image in my head. First I hack away with broad strokes until I get the rough outline of what I want; then I go back and add more definition to the arms and torso; on my final pass, I’m chiseling the details like fingernails and eyelashes.
Will any of your books ever be made into movies?
That would be great, wouldn’t it? Every once in a while, I hear from someone with Hollywood connections, but I don’t really count on a movie happening any time in the future. There are a zillion books out there and only a small fraction of them get made into movies—and only a small percentage of those are good movies. So I don’t rally base my career on hoping for a movie deal.
What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
First, read. Across all genres and with some discrimination. Pay attention to what works, what’s boring, what you like. I’m not saying you should copy anyone else’s style, but understand what kinds of stories are readable—and marketable.
Second, write. If you’re like most writers, your first book won’t sell. Maybe your second one won’t either. But the more you write, the better you’ll get. You’ll get better faster if you have a writer’s group or other trusted friends give you honest feedback about what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong.
Third, learn the market. Read the books being published in your genre, and if there are magazines in your field, read those. Attend conventions. Talk to other writers and would-be writers. I don’t recommend that you jump on whatever the current trend is, but it never hurts to know what’s selling and how it’s written. And don’t give up!